Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Transportation bill got my vote because ...


I supported the transportation bill for several reasons:

• I supported the bill not because I believe in more taxation but because I believe in less.

A gas tax is a user fee, plain and simple, and for 20 years it has not been increased. This additional user fee will cost each of us less than a cup of coffee each month.

But the user fee for gas is just one part of the bill. In the bill is municipal state aid, with $11 million for Bloomington, $4.8 million for Edina and $150 million for Hennepin County. This money will be available for street repair and improvements over the next 10 years.

If these dollars do not come to our county and cities through this allocation, residents in my district will eventually pay for the improvements through increased real-estate taxes. That is the bottom line. The cities and the county will have no other choice but to go to their primary source of funding, our real estate taxes, to get transportation needs met. With this bill, I voted to avoid higher property taxes.

• I supported the bill because we have a slowing economy in our state.

People have suggested that an economic downturn is not the time for a bill like this. I believe it is the time. This bill will support thousands of jobs -- jobs with salary dollars that will stay in Minnesota.

What is the remedy for a slowing economy? Jobs. We need these dollars in Minnesota. Our way of life here and our future depend on a strong economic base. We bemoan the loss of 900 jobs at Macy's downtown, but we are losing many times that number in our construction industry alone. Think of the positive effect of thousands of Minnesota jobs in the next decade. With this bill, I voted for a stronger economy.

• I supported the bill because of the recently released legislative auditor's report.

Legislative Auditor James Nobel used the words "downright grim" when looking at the current status of roads and bridges. In his testimony, he gave me no reason to question the talented men and women who are engineers and planners in the Department of Transportation (MnDOT).

He did give me the reason MnDOT is in such a mess. Follow the money. We are asking MnDOT to do more and more with less and less. It is a shell game with horrific outcomes. Maintenance deferred, construction postponed -- it is all part of the MnDOT mantra.

A MnDOT employee I know well said that it is hard when you can't be proud of the place you work. Without funding. MnDOT's hands are tied. With this bill, I voted as a legislator to accept my part of the transportation problems in this state.

• I supported the bill because as a solo business owner, I know the reality of inflation.

Over the last three years, we have lost two opportunities to adequately fund road maintenance and construction. This is the third time that a transportation bill has been passed and vetoed. Over this same period, according to the auditor's report, the cost of construction has gone up almost 40 percent. It will continue to escalate, and a transportation bill will keep coming back, each time with a higher price tag, not to do more, but to do less. The reality is the old adage "pay now or pay more later." With this bill, I voted against inflationary increases for transportation.

• • •

I supported the bill even though I wasn't crazy about the quarter-cent sales tax for transit. I believe in public transit, and I know it is necessary with more than a million more people coming into the Twin Cities in the next decade. Except for the occasional trip on light rail, I don't use public transit on a daily basis, so I don't think about it as much. However, as a user of the freeways, roads and bridges, I need transit to exist and expand if I want to continue to drive without additional gridlock and wasted time. We need public transit to exist for persons who are aging and no longer drive. We need mass transit for cleaner air. With this bill, I supported transportation and the environment of our future.

I supported the bill and was encouraged to do so by the endorsement of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, the Minnesota League of Cities, the Environmental Partnership and the president of the University of Minnesota, plus countless other organizations and, believe it or not, constituents.

I supported the transportation bill in spite of the pain that it personally causes me. It pains me to be at odds with the governor, a man I personally like. It pains me to hit a bump in my relationships with some caucus members. But it pains me even more to consider the consequences of doing nothing again this year.

With this bill I voted to represent what I believe to be in the best interest of my cities, my constituents and, ultimately, my conscience.

Neil Peterson, R-Bloomington, represents District 41B in the Minnesota House.

Source: http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentary/16001922.html

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